TEACHING EXPERTISE AS A CULTURALLY-EMBEDDED PHENOMENON: A CASE STUDY OF ONE ESOL DEPARTMENT

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2004-08-06

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Title of Dissertation: TEACHING EXPERTISE AS A CULTURALLY-EMBEDDED PHENOMENON: A CASE STUDY OF ONE ESOL DEPARTMENT

Shannon Bramblett, Ph.D., 2004

Dissertation directed By: Assistant Professor Jacqueline Cossentino,Department of Education Policy and Leadership

The United States has an unprecedented number of ELLs (English Language Learners) attending public schools. Research on programs for ELLs has not kept pace with the mushrooming growth of the programs themselves. The relative newness of programs for ELLs, the rapid growth of the ELL population in public schools, and the variety of programming available means that researchers know comparatively little about the culture of available programs or the types of teaching expertise teachers develop and use in them. In this dissertation I examine the phenomenon of culturally embedded expertise in one type of program for ELLs, an ESOL program, in a large, public comprehensive high school. The aim is twofold: 1) to identify and analyze less-frequently understood aspects of teaching expertise with culturally and linguistically diverse learners, and 2) to use this knowledge to improve the way researchers approach understanding teaching expertise.

In this ethnographic case study I explore culture and expertise in one ESOL department in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Unlike most studies of teaching expertise, I broadened the scope of the study to include not only teacher interactions with students, but also teacher interactions with other teachers. In the dissertation I describe and analyze the teaching expertise of three ESOL teachers. I collected data primarily through interviews and observations. ESOL teacher expertise and culture were assessed through the lens of ritual (Bell 1992, 1997).

Teaching expertise was not limited to effectively helping ELLs learn to speak English. Rather, ESOL culture members "coconstructed" a cultural value that was more broadly focused on the overall flourishing of ELLs. ESOL teachers strengthened their commitment to ELLs through ritualized interactions that included keeping the value of students in the foreground of their interactions. Teachers also cultivated personal relationships with other ESOL teachers; this fostered stronger professional relationships that led to sharing expert practices and collaboration. Expertise in the ESOL culture revolved around two cultural goals. The first entailed helping ELLs make a cultural transition to the ESOL classroom. The second involved helping ELLs prepare for life beyond the ESOL classroom.

This study suggests that some aspects of teaching expertise are closely linked to the shared cultural values of ESOL teachers. Thus, it is important to consider the complexity of time, place, and culture when attempting to understand teaching expertise as it applies to ELLs.

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